Sept. 9, 2020 – The November election will be here before you know it. Amidst COVID-19, many people will want to know how to vote via absentee ballot, and lawyers can help their communities understand the timelines and requirements for doing so.
The Wisconsin Election Commission and MyVoteWisconsin have a lot of information. This article highlights common questions lawyers can use to answer election questions from community members while informing themselves to ensure their votes count.
When is the election?
The fall 2020 General Election is Nov. 3, 2020. Wisconsin voters will cast ballots for U.S. President, U.S. Representatives, even-numbered Wisconsin State Senate seats, all Wisconsin Assembly seats, and all district attorneys. Candidates vary by district.
Wisconsin Needs Poll Workers for Election Day
According to a recent press release, Wisconsin municipalities typically need approximately 30,000 poll workers, Wolfe said. Because significant numbers of existing poll workers are in their 60s, 70s and 80s or have health conditions, clerks have experienced shortages at elections in April, May and August.
In the August 11 Partisan Primary, clerks in 40 counties and 141 municipalities were more than 700 workers short. Luckily, the Wisconsin National Guard was able to deploy service members in civilian clothes to fill those gaps, but there is no guarantee they will be available in November.
To sign up, anyone interested should contact their municipal clerk’s office or visit the MyVote Wisconsin website: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/PollWorker.
Where do I vote?
Where you vote is based on your place of residence. Visit MyVoteWisconsin and input your address to determine where you can physically cast your ballot. Or, contact or visit your municipal clerk’s office for information on where you must cast your ballot.
How do I register to vote?
All persons have a right to vote in Wisconsin if they have resided in a ward for at least 28 days, are U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on or before Election Day, and are not otherwise disqualified.
If you are not already registered to vote, you can register online at MyVoteWisconsin. You will need to upload a photo of your Wisconsin Driver License or Wisconsin State ID Card Number in order to register to vote online.
You will also need to match the name, date of birth, and address on file with the Wisconsin DMV in order to register to vote online.
Deadlines: The deadline to register to vote online is Oct. 14, 2020. The deadline to register to vote at your municipal’s clerk’s office or other designated location is Oct. 30. If you miss these deadlines, you can still register at the polling place on Election Day.
Can I still register to vote if I don’t have photo ID?
Eligible Wisconsin voters who do not have a current, valid Wisconsin Driver License or Wisconsin State ID Card may complete the voter registration form and mail or deliver their form to their municipal clerk along with a proof of residence document.
To register by postal mail, the form must be sent at least 20 days before the election. You can also deliver the form (with proof of residence) to your municipal clerk’s office by the Friday before the election (the election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020). You can also register to vote at your polling place the day of the election (with proof of residence).
Do I need photo ID to vote?
Photo ID is a requirement to vote in Wisconsin, but there are some exceptions. Acceptable forms of photo ID include valid Wisconsin Driver License or Wisconsin State ID Card, Military ID card, photo identification card issued by a Wisconsin accredited university or college (with other requirements), and U.S. passport.
Certain categories of voters do not need to provide photo ID to vote, provided they are already registered to vote. That includes voters who have applied to remain confidential (confidential electors), including domestic abuse victims.
Confidential electors must apply for this status with their municipal clerk, and have presented a court order, a letter from law enforcement, a letter from the staff of a domestic abuse shelter, or the staff of an agency assisting victims of domestic abuse.
Other categories of persons who are not required to provide photo ID include:
- Active Military and Permanent Overseas voters when they vote by absentee ballot;
- Indefinitely confined voters when voting by absentee ballot. An “indefinitely confined voter” I a person who, because of age, physical illness, infirmity or disability, may have difficulty traveling to the polling place. When they apply for an absentee ballot, the indefinitely confined voter must indicate they are indefinitely confined. A witness must still sign the absentee ballot.
- Voters in special care facilities, such as nursing homes, when voting by absentee ballot. Special Voting Deputies will be on hand at such eligible care facilities to serve as witnesses in lieu of photo ID. If the facility is not eligible for an attendant Special Voting Deputy, the voter may provide a copy of their photo ID or ask an authorized representative of the facility to verify their identity by signing the absentee certificate envelope.
- Religious electors. If a spiritual belief prevents a voter from being photographed, they can received a state ID card without a photo for voting purposes from the DMV. The DMV will require certain documentation to obtain the religious-based ID card.
Can I vote by absentee ballot?
Registered voters can request an absentee ballot. Request an absentee ballot at myvote.wi.gov. You can also request a ballot by sending an absentee ballot request form to your municipal clerk’s office. Most voters will need to provide an acceptable photo ID when they request an absentee ballot.
Request your absentee ballot now. It takes Wisconsin time to process voter requests and mail out ballots. Your ballot must arrive at your municipal clerk’s office or polling place by Election Day to be counted. The U.S. Postal Service suggests mailing absentee ballots at least one week before Election Day for the General Election.
How do I ensure the absentee ballot counts?
It must be signed by a witness. Choose an adult U.S. citizen who is not a candidate in the upcoming election. They can observe at a distance — from across the room, through a window, or even over video chat — as long as they can sign your ballot certificate themselves once it’s complete.
Fill out your ballot carefully. If you make a mistake or change your mind about a selection, contact your municipal clerk’s office for help. Once your ballot is complete, place it in the certified envelope. Then seal and sign the certificate envelope, and make sure your witness adds their address and signature, too.
Send your absentee ballot. If you vote absentee by mail, there are three different ways you can return your completed absentee ballot. You can mail it back using the addressed, postage-paid envelope included with your ballot packet. You can drop it off at your municipal clerk’s office. Voters can even take their completed absentee ballot to their polling place or absentee counting location by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Note: Absentee ballots must arrive at your municipal clerk’s office or polling place by Election Day to be counted. The U.S. Postal Service suggests mailing absentee ballots at least one week before Election Day for the General Election.
Can college students register to vote?
Yes. All persons have a right to vote in Wisconsin if they have resided in a ward for at least 28 days, are U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on or before Election Day, and are not otherwise disqualified. Leaving an established residence for temporary purposes with the intent to return to the residence does not negate residency eligibility.
To register to vote in Wisconsin, college students must mail or deliver a voter registration form to their municipal clerk along with a proof of residence document. Students without a valid Wisconsin-issued photo ID cannot register to vote online.
A student ID (with photo) is acceptable proof of residence, but only if the voter provides a tuition or other fee receipt dated within the last 9 months or the institution provides a certified housing list that indicates citizenship to the municipal clerk.
Can college students vote by absentee ballot?
Yes, if the college student is registered to vote in Wisconsin. If the student has not previously provided a copy of acceptable photo ID with a prior by-mail absentee ballot request, a copy of photo ID must accompany the absentee ballot application.
Only registered voters with Wisconsin-issued driver’s license or state ID card may request an absentee ballot online. If a college student does not have a state-issued ID, they must submit a paper absentee ballot application. University, college or technical college ID and enrollment verification is an acceptable form of photo ID. The ID must show the date the card was issued with an expiration date no later than two years after date of issuance (card may be expired) and must include the student’s signature.
Can a power of attorney (POA) complete an application for absentee ballot for an elector?
Yes. A Power of Attorney can request an absentee ballot for an elector. No person (not even a POA) may “vote” a ballot for another elector.
Can someone assist an elector in marking an absentee ballot?
If the elector requires assistance in completing the ballot, the elector may designate another person to assist the elector in marking the ballot.
In the presence of the elector, the ballot must be marked according to the elector’s direction. The assisting elector must sign their name on the ballot under the section entitled “Signature of Assisting Individual.”
Can I still vote if I am homeless or recently evicted from my residence?
Yes. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has a specific guide for homeless voters.
What if there’s a problem at my polling place?
If you are unable to provide poll workers with documentation as required by Wisconsin and federal law, you can still cast a provisional ballot.
A provisional ballot is not counted when cast. A provisional ballot will not be counted unless the voter provides the required information to poll workers by 8 p.m. on Election Day or the municipal clerk by 4 p.m. of the Friday following the election.
To cast a provisional ballot, the voter must be
- a qualified elector who has been issued a current and valid Wisconsin driver license or identification card number registers to vote at a polling place on election day, but is unable or unwilling to list the number on the registration; or
- a registered voter is unable or unwilling to provide proof of identification.